WASHINGTON — Though turnout was low for the satellite viewing of the New Baptist Covenant II in the nation’s capital, organizers of the event prepared carefully with a huge screen dominating the platform area of Israel Baptist Church in the District of Columbia’s northeast sector.
Hosted by the church’s pastor, Morris Shearin, the simulcast of the second gathering of the New Bapitst Covenant began precisely at 7 p.m. as the screen flickered to life. Viewers said the event was inspirational and challenging.
The NBC II drew diverse Baptists who share concern for the poor and marginalized to Atlanta Nov. 17-19 to hear addresses from a slate of ministers and social justice advocates. Former president Jimmy Carter was convener of the three-day meeting, whose sessions were simulcast to viewing sites across the country.
Ken Fong, pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church in Los Angeles, observed that Baptists there are thought of as intolerant, judgmental and as stuffed shirts by the general population causing Baptists there to have a low self-esteem and causing him to exclaim, “I’m not that kind of Baptist!”
“In fact,” he continued tongue-in-cheek, “ ‘not that kind of Baptist’ is a separate denomination!”
Baptists number 30 million in the United States, or 10 percent of the population, he cited. Even with low self-esteem, Baptists should be making huge impacts on their society. “What kind of impact are we making?”
The word “ ’Baptist’ should mean ‘justice’ and ‘hope,’” he concluded.
Other speakers included former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who spoke eloquently of the need for Baptists to get involved in ministry to the mentally disabled. For years, through the Carter Center, she has championed the cause of mental illnesses and disabilities.
But organizers were disappointed by the low turnout in Washington. During the offertory, when spokespersons at the various locations made appeals to the worshippers there, Israel Baptist Church’s Shearin alluded to the lack of a crowd. “The people are not here but it is not our fault. We have done what we were asked to do.”
After the event ended for the evening he clarified. “The folks in Atlanta asked us to provide the space and to arrange to have the satellite hookup,” he said. He alluded to confusion with the District of Columbia Baptist Conventoin. which, according to Shearin, at first thought it was being asked to fund the satellite connection. “Jimmy Allen said they would pay for it,” he said, referring to the satellite feed and equipment.
A total of 15 people, including two technicians tending the equipment, sat in the sanctuary built to seat 1,100. Still the small group applauded, stood to sing and otherwise participated in the proceedings on the screen as if the room had been filled to capacity.
Reports from other sites – including the main one in Atlanta – also indicated low participation.
Bill Slater, pastor of Wake Forest (N.C.) Baptist Church, had come to Washington to combine tourism and a desire to visit with New Covenant Baptists. “At first I thought I was in the wrong place,” he remarked. Being thwarted in his second goal, he decided to leave early and visit the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.
Jeffrey Walton, the third person in the sanctuary Friday morning, is communications manager for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative advocacy group based in the capital. He was there to report on Jimmy Carter’s remarks.
Jim White (email@example.com) is editor of the Religious Herald.